Is business in Moab booming this summer?
You might get a different answer to that question, depending on whom you ask.
Some representatives from the local hospitality industry are reporting modest to significant increases in the numbers of visitors they’re seeing this season, despite the heat and smoke from wildfires burning elsewhere in the West.
“It’s been unreal how long I’ve been sold out for,” said Expedition Lodge innkeeper Christy Melo, who noted that the hotel at 168 N. Main St. has been booked solid every night for at least a month.
Just this week, Melo said, the lodge had to turn away an early-morning caller who was scrambling at the last minute to find a room for the night.
But others who serve local and visiting diners alike said they have witnessed a slowdown this season.
While business at the Atomic Grill & Lounge was good this spring, chef and owner Tim Buckingham said he “doesn’t know from year to year,” how it will be. He said summers used to be busier, and he’s noticed a decrease in visitors from overseas — which he attributes to the economy and politics.
Buckingham said he’s talked to other local restaurant owners who say their business is down this summer. People are frustrated; traffic is so bad, he noted.
Peace Tree Juice Cafe employee Laura Martinez said she often meets patrons who come to Arches National Park for a day, and then move on to San Juan, Emery and Carbon counties in search of cheaper overnight accommodations.
“It’s expensive here, compared to Green River or Price,” Martinez said.
Likewise, Peace Tree employee Colin Caylor said some patrons have indicated that they are spending less time overall in town.
“It seems like they don’t stay as long, just because of the hotel prices and everything,” he said.
For everyone like Caylor, Martinez and Buckingham, though, there are those like Moab Cyclery manager Jacques Hadler, who reported a slight uptick in business over the 2017 summer season.
Spring numbers at Moab Cyclery were up substantially by about 10 to 15 percent, he said, and the business at 391 S. Main St. has seen a more modest 2 or 3 percent increase this summer.
“It feels like a pretty average summer to me,” Hadler said.
Hadler said he has a vague sense that fewer people from the United Kingdom and Australia are visiting Moab. But at Moab Cyclery, at least, “tons” of European visitors — particularly people from France, Germany and Switzerland — are still passing through its doors this season, he said.
Moab Cyclery makes its money during the traditional peak visitor season, a combined five-month period that runs from March through May, and then picks up again once daytime temperatures have cooled down in September and October.
Summertime, on the other hand, is typically a time that the business regroups for the year, Hadler said. Some employees take time off or work elsewhere during the hotter months in Moab, he said, and the cyclery restocks with new products that typically come out late in the season.
“Summer is not something we depend on,” Hadler said.
Poison Spider Bicycles co-owner Scott Newton said that Moab’s outdoor recreation industry in general slows down when temperatures heat up.
“It’s so hot,” he said. “It just depends on who wants to go out and venture into (the heat).”
Newton said that numbers at Poison Spider and the Whole Enchilada Shuttle Co. are up slightly from where they were at this time in 2017. On a recent weekday, for instance, the bike shop at 497 N. Main St. logged 20 bike rentals — a figure that surprised Newton, in retrospect.
“Even with the heat, we are still renting bikes,” he said. “People are getting out in the early morning or evening.”
While the period that runs from June 15 through Sept. 1 is typically Poison Spider’s slowest time of year, Newton said that more heat-tolerant Europeans are now arriving in Moab and renting bikes.
“It seems like right now, it’s starting to pick up again,” he said. “We’ll be in full swing by September.”
Moab musician “Jon O.” Olschewski said it’s hard to gauge whether the triple-digit heat of summer leads to a major drop-off in the number of visitors, although he suspects it does.
“When people look at the temperatures here and it says a month at 103 degrees, they won’t want to book here,” Olschewski said. “I think that tourism is really directly related to the weather.”
The hot summer and hazy skies have not affected Cindy Sue Hunter’s business, Imagination Station Art and Craft Supplies, at 702 S. Main St., Unit 5. Hunter, who was born in Moab but grew up elsewhere, returned to her hometown to start a business.
“Business has been good,” she said. “I’m here mainly for the locals, although I benefit from tourism. Visitors fill in the gap. I’m 100 percent in favor of tourism. I would not be here without tourism.”
Caylor gauges the summertime activity in part by his ability — or inability — to make a left-hand turn on Main Street. This summer, he’s found that it’s easier to make those turns.
“That’s how you can tell it’s less busy,” he said.
After 15 years in Moab, Caylor has noticed that visitation varies from one visitor season to the next.
“It fluctuates every year,” he said. “It’s never really the same, but I’ve noticed that this year has been slower … especially at the beginning of the year.”
Weather, prices and crowds could be affecting tourism trends
“It feels like a pretty average summer to me.”